Is Infidelity a Form of Domestic Abuse?

Woman thinking colourIn many instances, betrayal through infidelity can be very close to what we term domestic violence. Unfaithful husbands, especially if your husband has passive aggressive tendencies, are often insensitive to the pain they inflict, just as are perpetrators of physical and psychological violence.

Often a wife is as vulnerable and dependent as the victim of repeated beatings. The behavior patterns of ongoing infidelity often parallel the well-documented stages in the cycle of domestic abuse.

In coaching women who are going through divorce due to a husband’s infidelity, I’ve found they common characteristics with victims of domestic abuse:

  • Infidelity and domestic abuse can both become an ongoing aspect of marriage. There is a recurring cycle in which the abusive or cheating husband is repentant and the marital relationship functions well. Then there is another episode of abuse or infidelity.
  • The cheating husband may show brief periods of guilt or remorse, but usually seem insensitive to the pain they have caused. And will not accept responsibility for the suffering they cause.
  • The wife suffers from low self-esteem, a sense of worthlessness, a lack of control over her life, a dependency on her husband, and a distorted sense of reality in which she believes that what happens is her fault.
  • Women who stay for significant periods of time with partners who are unfaithful, often display the same psychological and social symptoms exhibited by victims of systematic abuse.

If you have become an unwitting victim of domestic abuse due to your husband’s infidelity isn’t it time to break the cycle? Instead of driving yourself to distraction why not face the simple fact that your husband’s infidelity is his choice and that choice was abusive in nature. His choices may leave you with no choice but to end the marriage.

If your husband is cheating, take action. Tell him that his behavior is unacceptable. Set boundaries and stand by those boundaries. Don’t allow dependence on an unhealthy marriage to tear down your ability to live life on your own terms and free of abuse.

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  1. 1

    joe says

    I am stunned there are not many comments on this matter based on how my wifes affair had effected me. I will never be the same this I know. I will never be the father I was and will most likely never trust either.
    For me, her affair has taken part of my soul, my identity, I wish I knew how to describe the hole it has created, it is so deep yet I can’t find the words to describe it. Its just something you feel.

  2. 2

    Cindy says

    I do feel the same as Joe. My husband’s first affair crushed everything I believed in & how I thought we we together & as individuals. I took the leap of faith and did the hard hard work to reconcile & to really begin to trust, only to be betrayed again. I can’t imagine ever being able to fully trust a partner again and feel like my self esteem may never recover. Even though I try every day to do the focused work of healing. Being so damaged due to someone else’s betrayal of your trust, your heart & your soul is beyond devastating.

  3. 3


    Hi Folks, I think I should have written about moving past the damage done by infidelity. It is not my intention for anyone to believe that there isn’t life after such pain.

    Having your trust broken is devastating and it takes time to heal. I encourage anyone who has been the victim of a spouse’s infidelity to remember this one important point…their cheating is not about you and your value or worth it is about them and their character flaw.

    You can’t allow another person’s actions define how you feel about yourself. Joe, the kind of father you are is determined by the kind of father you want to be, not by your wife’s infidelity. If you become less than a wonderful father to your boys, especially now when they need you most it is because you gave her power over your ability to father.

    The love you have for your children is far more precious than the love you have for your wife. Please don’t allow her behavior to rob your children of a loving, caring father.

    Cindy, there was a time I couldn’t look in the mirror. I thought I was worthless. I’ve I weren’t why would my husband do the things he did. I took responsibility for his bad behavior by taking it out on myself. I beat myself up over something HE HAD DONE.

    My self-esteem was in the gutter! I thought I would never trust again, couldn’t imagine allowing myself to put faith in trust in a man. I was wrong though. I did the work I needed to do. I focused on taking care of myself and constantly reminding myself that I had done nothing to deserve what I got.

    You continue to work, stay focused on the good in you instead of what he did to you. Be gentle with yourself, pay special attention to how YOU treat your heart, not how he treated it. Judge your sense of self highly, be gentle with Cindy in every way.

    If you are like me, you are good at kicking your own a$$ even when you don’t deserve it. I suggest a new approach, stop kicking yourself over something he did. The first step to moving past the pain is building your self-esteem you can’t do that if you judge your worth by the actions of someone else.

  4. 4

    Julianne Stoker says

    I have been told and I feel even though my husband did not have sex with his friend,(he did tell me he wanted to leave myself and the children to be with her and left the family home for a period hoping she would follow, but she didn’t, and he returned)that this is still an affair.
    After 10 years I have just discovered they are still in contact constantly,(for emotional support). I am feeling totally devastated and betrayed again, am I over reacting? He said they never slept together so therefore didn’t have an affair.
    what is your feelings on this

  5. 5


    No you aren’t over-reacting. He is having an emotional affair with this woman. In my opinion attaching himself to this woman emotionally is far more dangerous for the marriage than if he had only slept with her.

    If he needs emotional support he should being talking to you, not some other woman.

  6. 6

    David says

    I completely relate to Joe’s comments. My wife had several emotional and one physical affair last year, and the impact on me was (and still is) indescribable. I felt as though part of my very soul was ripped from my body. It was a month before I could even function halfway normally. Now, about 15 months out, I still have days where I’m consumed by the doubts and fears. When falling asleep, or in the wee morning hours, I still have “flashbacks” where I’m re-living terrible moments that happened. We’re now happily reconciled, thanks largely to a fantastic therapist, great luck of the stars, and my extreme patience and understanding. But the damage will last. I think comparing an affair to PTSD is more accurate than trying to compare it to physical abuse. (Comparing an affair to physical abuse is like comparing a gunshot wound to a stabbing – both are awful, but comparing the two does nothing to describe the injuries that result, or what to do about them).

    I, too, would love to read more about the healing side. It’s easy to say “get on with your life”, and “make sure you’re a good dad for your kids” – but, when you can barely pull yourself out of bed (even on antidepressants), that’s much easier said than done.

  7. 7


    David, I agree it is easier said than done. BUT it is getting up and engaging in life regardless of how we feel that is key to moving on. It is a daily effort into focusing on something other than the pain we feel that is key to moving on.

    It may be easier said than done but it is not impossible to do. When we have children who need us we don’t have any other option than to get up, pull ourselves together and get on with the job of living and parenting.

  8. 9

    Julianne Stoker says

    How do I move on I truly don’t trust him any more even though he swears he has stopped contact with her, I just don’t believe him. This upsets him and he says he can’t cope with my emotional state any longer, though when I make the decision to move on he becomes all wonderful and wants me back. I love him to pieces and am terrified of being on my own, but really just want to make a life for myself. How do I get the strength to do this?

  9. 10


    Julianne .. I can relate to almost every comment here in one way or another. My husband has had many emotional affairs and one physical affair that I know of. I truly have come to realize during my year long divorce process that the only way to get over the pain and horror of this all (and to heal through my own weaknesses) is to move through it. There’s no way around it. I was in denial many years regarding my husband’s womanizing and I stood by and allowed it to happen because I didn’t have a strong enough self worth to call him on and to walk away. I was afraid to live alone .. emotionally and financially. He was a gorgeous man and very charismatic and always hooked me back in. Add alcoholism and verbal abuse, and my self worth was in the toilet and I began to feel as though I was the one with the problem and insane.

    Asking him to leave our home and filing for divorce was one of the easiest and most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. And I’d do it all over again. This past year has been hell. But I’m making it and learning so much.

    You asked what to do? Here’s some suggestions: Read, read and read the divorce blogs. Some are good, some not. You will begin to see patterns of truth that will help you. Read “NOT ‘Just Friends'” by Shirley Glasser .. an amazing book on infidelity in the USA. If you are negatively affected by drinking or substance abuse in any way, start attending a 12 step support group (i.e. Al-Anon). See a qualified relationship therapist .. by yourself. If you feel controlled by your husband, read ‘Why Does He Do That? Angry and Controlling Men ..’ by Landy Buncroft.

    All the best to you. I know exactly how you feel.

    Eat well. Rest. And exercise to keep your physical and mental health in check as much as possible.

  10. 11

    Brenda says

    I know this will likely get some flack…and maybe this is the wrong place to post…but is there ever a time infidelity is right? As a woman in a verbally abusive relationship I found myself in emotional affairs. Surely this was not morally right. But I’m afraid to leave my situation because of our child and money issues. I DO know that if I were a better or stronger person I would leave. The fact is I am scared and yet I crave the attention of a kind and loving man as opposed to my husband who is controlling, cruel, arrogant, etc. And, for the record, he was like this before I ever let myself get emotionally attached to someone else. He did find out out and now uses this to justify the abuse that went on before. That’s my fault…I gave him that ammo and surely he is entitled to his pain. Any input is welcome. And, believe me, I have already beat myself up so if that is your intention…don’t bother.

  11. 12


    Brenda, I think you need to focus on getting out. Probably something you’ve heard before huh?

    You say if you were a “better or stronger person” you would leave. You need to stop thinking of yourself as less than, which is a by-product of his abuse. You also need to start thinking about what steps you can take to feel stronger and more empowered.

    I think it is normal for most us of to take the path of least resistance. You are afraid to leave but need comfort from what you are living in daily. Since you don’t feel strong enough to leave you sought comfort from someone else.

    Doing that isn’t going to get you what you need…empowerment and independence. Turning to another man may be easier than packing your bags and facing life alone with your children but in the long run it just ads to the problem you already have.

    If you see this response I would like to know what it exactly that you are afraid of. What about leaving him scares you the most?

  12. 13


    People!! Yes the cheater made you feel bad and as a victim. That is what they wanted to do in the first place and if you feel it, they in a sense won. Do not be a victim and you be the leader to winning. the reality is any children in this relationship are the ones who are getting hurt. Yes one needs to heal after such betrayal but it must be kept in mind the little ones still need you, maybe now more than before. Admittedly it is a life changing experience but not only for the leftover spouse/partner, also for those children. Yes you all will never be the same but why allow these emotional and physical cheaters to think they have won? They left/cheated so it is their issue, there is a character flaw inside them, not the partner who decided to stay honestly. It really does come down to the children, yes we got hurt but its up to us to watch out for our babies since babies they are, even when they are pretending the teenager is a young adult really, we know it hurts them the same. Us honest reliable adults can shoulder the blame cause its not our fault, kids cant cause they don’t understand and even blame themselves for their parents problem. Please adults who say you wont trust again, wont love again or wont even try again, you will make it back. read and learn to empower yourself but mostly swim through it for the kids. You can do it people! I tell my babies, ages 5, 7, 11 and 16: united we stand, divided we fall, family is number 1!! follow this lead because they get it and the kids help us heal and live again.

  13. 14

    Kelly says

    Brenda, I too am married to a verbally abusive and controlling man. I have been married for over 10 years and have 5 children. He didn’t do it everyday but he would go 1,2 or even 3 weeks but then he would strike. I work full time, have 5 kids and go to graduate school. He tells me I’m a lazy F’ing a$$ hole. That I don’t care about my children. That I’m selfish and a “f’ing moron”. The name calling and undermining me has chipped away at my ability to think straight some days. I did have an affair a few years ago and it was the worst thing I could have done. He found out and the verbal assaults escalated in intensity and severity. I took it because I felt terrible for what I did. It even turned physical on 2 separate occasions. Once before the affair and once after. In January, I finally gained the strength to file for divorce. His behavior changed as he was trying to win me back. I took him back twice since then and with in a week he verbally attacked me again. It sickens me to think that this will be the rest of my life if I stay. But I feel paralyzed at the thought of leaving. I know that if I don’t break the cycle that my children will absolutely be affected by this. If you haven’t already been physically intimate with this guy…..I recommend you don’t. It complicates things and chips further away at your self esteem. There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t regret that decision.

  14. 15

    Marty Scott says

    I was unfaithful to my wife and am devastated by the guilt it has caused me. My wife controlled me for 18 years. I couldn’t see my friends. I couldn’t enjoy activities I liked. I couldn’t spend time with my kids. I got yelled at for taking a 15 minute nap because I should have been vacuuming. Her family would walk in our house unannounced and stay the entire evening without invitation. We had to go to her mother’s house EVERY Sunday for “family” dinner or we heard about it. She financially ruined me by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on home renovations which I didn’t want to do but she forced my hand. She insists on sending my kids to private schools even though we don’t have the money because of her financial decisions. When things got bad, she would drag me away from my kids to go out to eat 4-5 nights a week. We fought constantly. We tried counseling. we never had sex. Yes, I have character flaws and am ashamed of what I have done, and should have sought divorce first. I wanted to stay for the kids. But I’m sick of hearing how the character flaw is always with the unfaithful partner. We’re now divorced and she continues to instill guilt in me. This is the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on. Was I abused for 18 years? Hell yes. She stole my life and my identity from me and became irrational and irate if I ever stood up for myself. I tried to get her to seek individual counseling but she refused, became defensive, and got angry with me. Her family has shunned me except for her one brother who did the same thing I did in his marriage.
    There are TWO sides to every story and I’m sick of these “victims” of unfaithful partners wailing, and those in happy marriages passing judgment. There are victims in any situation where there is infidelity. But, guess what? it’s not always so-called “faithful” partner.

  15. 18

    barbara says

    My life is very diferent to most.I was the one who cheated and has took all the verbal;emotional and physical abuse.I changed and was willing to do whatever it took to save my marriage but the damage was done on my husband and things were not the same anymore.He wanted me to try but memories and angry thought’s are alway’s in his mind so not a heathy marrige.Now i am seeking therapy and found out how things might not work out.Deep down i know he is still on the blame and still hurt and it’s been seven years since the one night stand/cheating on him.I have never been unfaithful to him since and don’t plan too.This marrige has suffered alot and he need’s the help to heal along with myself.Hopeing to heal more for myself first.

  16. 19


    I stayed with my ex through 12yrs of cheating on & off throughout our relationship, i had no selfworth, was suffering depression, was full of self doubt, had lost all self esteem & towards the end suicidal. After 5 1/2 years of separation I can say that you can get your life back. It took alot of hard work, counselling & support from friends & family. The most important thing is learning to trust & believe in yourself again. The thing that sticks with me the most from counselling & that I apply to any type of relationship or friendship now is that two people can come to a compromise BUT in doing so you should never compromise yourself & what you believe in. Staying true to myself has been the way I’ve found happiness. Hopefully this brings hope to those of you who are in that dark place

  17. 20

    Ellie says

    I am living with a passive-aggressive husband that has just done the most unthinkable thing anyone can do – he has depleted my bank account but that is not all he has also had an affair. I can certainly relate to the mental abuse that goes with this kind of relationship. I have no support system he has isolated me to the extent that there is no where to go or nobody to turn to. I feel like I am worth less than a worm that someone has just trodden on. So much so my self-esteem has been so low that I did not even have the confidence to drive my own car for ten years. He is a charmer and a heart-breaker and yes he does drive one crazy with this game he plays. I have been married to him for 37 years – he knows I won’t divorce him and he continually promises to change his behavior but then goes back to the old “self” of lying and cheating.

  18. 21

    Mirian says

    Its very true its unexplainable everyone thinks you can get over it fast but when its done repeatedly it eats your soul inside, you begin to become this person with no identity. You feel pain anguish sadness. Trust is the hardest I believe. I hope the 13 years of pain one day will vanish.

  19. 22

    Crys says

    I thought it was never going to happen to me but yes I sell my husband kind of suspicious hiding the phone away from me so I decided to look through his phone when he went to the restroom I called his phone and I want to his text messages I discover a text from another number that I have to ask a month ago whose number was this he told me I don’t know but I saw the picture of a woman
    naked so I told him what was going on and he told me it’s just a stupid message nothing to worry about so now I don’t know what to do um I need some advice.

  20. 23

    Danielle says

    I was married for 14 yrs and have 5 kids with a man who is a serial cheater, alcoholic and angry and controlling. It took me 10 yrs to find out he had been cheating on me from the start. Upon finding out he immediately quit drinking and we entered intensive therapy. Things were much better he actually apologized and things were looking better then he suddenly wanted to move out which he did and relapsed getting a DUI so I filed divorce then he came back into my life begging to try again so we did. Out of anger as a punishment to me he ends up having an affair he gets caught says he’s so sorry then two days later finds another woman, at this point I lock him out of house and feel done. That was a year ago during that time he comes into my life off and on begging for a last chance. He had 14 physical affairs that I know of during the course of our relationship . Is there any reason for me to listen to his pleas when he sounds sorry and is still seeking therapy yet I’m scared its just another cycle of abuse?? Am I just still too weak to see I need to say away from him or is there ever hope for us? I just want to move on past all this crap and I’m walking through it not around it and he keeps coming in and confusing things

  21. 24


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